We spoke with Ben Anstey, General Counsel and Company Secretary, Samaritans who answered some questions about the correct form of training in this area for managers, specific signs to be aware of and an overall education and awareness for how others around you feel.
“Employers play a crucial role in creating an environment where staff feel safe, supported and able to ask for help without fear of judgement.”
How would you advise managers encourage or have open and honest conversations?
Nearly 5,000 people die by suicide every year in England alone. Leaving behind thousands of families, communities and workmates devastated by their loss. But suicide can be preventable, and every organisation can work towards building a healthy and happy workforce. Employers play a crucial role in creating an environment where staff feel safe, supported and able to ask for help without fear of judgement. Open and honest conversations start by learning to listen. There’s a difference between hearing and actively listening. When people feel listened to, it can save lives. Anyone can learn to listen and we have lots of tools and advice on how to become a better listener. Managers should also be given the skills to spot the signs of a colleague in distress, and the confidence to approach them.
Do you know any scenarios that could have been avoided with these open conversations?
We spend about a third of our life at work and one in five adults experience suicidal feelings at some point in their lives. So it’s very likely that there are people suffering and trying to hide it in the workplace. We also know that one in five of us have experienced mental health issues due to work. But just one in ten feel able to tell their line manager or HR. Creating safe and open working environments can encourage anyone struggling to ask for help. By starting open conversations and making people feel listened too, we can intervene early and prevent people from reaching crisis point. Simply asking someone how they are feeling can make a huge difference. Sometimes we just want to know someone cares.
What training should be in place about this?
Everyone can be overwhelmed at times, anyone can have suicidal thoughts, everyone can help. Achieving real change starts with all of us learning emotional literacy, knowing how to recognise and manage emotions. We’ve teamed up with Lord Mayor’s Appeal to develop Wellbeing in the City, an online learning tool which teaches employees the skills to manage their own emotional health and to look out for their colleagues. Since its launch in April, thousands of people have signed up and 90% feel more confident approaching a colleague in distress. We also deliver in-house training courses to organisations on topics including conversations with vulnerable people and building resilience and wellbeing.
“Encourage them to talk about how they are feeling by asking open questions rather than trying to solve their problems”
Do you think workplaces are educated enough about suicide prevention?
In suicide prevention, awareness is everything. Understanding how suicidal thoughts and behaviours can manifest themselves, and how to intervene before it’s too late is imperative. However, suicide is still a taboo subject in the workplace. We can’t achieve real change until we can talk about it openly. Understandably, many organisations are not sure how to talk about suicide to their staff. We work closely with companies to raise awareness about suicidal thoughts, help reduce the stigma and put support systems in place.
What are some specific signs managers/colleagues should look out for as causes of concern?
Everyone is unique, and distress can manifest itself in different ways. But there are some signs that you can look out for. Look out for differences in the way people behave or present themselves at work. Are they taking less interest in their work, becoming more withdrawn or acting erratically? If you have remote workers, have they stopped using their webcam or stopped engaging in chat or small talk? There’s no one way that someone in distress will behave. But you’ll probably notice a difference in their behaviour. If you do notice someone acting differently, start by asking them how they are feeling. Show them you care. Encourage them to talk about how they are feeling by asking open questions rather than trying to solve their problems. If someone is talking about suicide, always take it seriously. It’s okay to ask direct questions and to have frank discussions. If you can, encourage them to contact Samaritans. We’re here round the clock, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
What would be your key advice for any manager facing this scenario?
If you think someone is struggling, the SHUSH framework is an easy to remember technique that anyone can use:
- Show you care: Focus on the other person, make eye contact, put away your phone.
- Have patience: It may take time and several attempts before a person is ready to open up.
- Use open questions: Ask questions that need more than a yes/no answer, and follow up with questions like “Tell me more”.
- Say it back: Check you’ve understood, but don’t interrupt or offer a solution.
- Have courage: Don’t be put off by a negative response and, most importantly, don’t feel you have to fill a silence.